'Council has made significant improvements in recent years to address issues of misconduct'

Cheshire East Council and the Local Government Association have published the full report of the corporate peer challenge undertaken earlier this year which concluded that "Cheshire East council has made significant improvements in recent years to address issues of misconduct and to transform the culture of the organisation."

The council invited the Local Government Association (LGA) to undertake the challenge session which involved a small team of local government officers and councillors, from other organisations, spending time at the council to provide challenge and share learning.

The report, discussed at a meeting of cabinet on today (Tuesday, 9th June) and approved for wider publication, sets out what the council is doing well, key suggestions and observations about how the council works. The report states:

● The council has made good progress over the past few years;

● The council delivers a number of high-quality services to the residents of the borough, which it should be proud of; and

● The culture change programme has made a profound difference to the way the organisation functions and to the experience of staff.

It goes on to make a number of key recommendations covering strategy and finance, governance, partnership working and culture, these include:

● Continue with the council's commitment to staff culture and wider workplace wellbeing

● Develop and launch a new Council Plan

● Provide clarity regarding the process, decisions and timelines for the introduction of the Committee System

● Refine the council's approach to strategic finance and create dialogue regarding collective appetite to risk:

● Communicate priorities for working in a partnership environment and learn the lessons of historic practice and approaches

● Refine the work programme and focus of Scrutiny Committees to support internal challenge and improvement

● Develop new approaches to engage councillors in neighbourhood working

● Review the findings of the 2019 Resident Survey to inform future relations with residents

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of the council, said: "I would like to thank the team from the LGA for supporting us with this challenge process. It was a very positive experience and the findings will be really valuable in our planning for the future.

"I am particularly pleased the peer group have recognised the remarkable progress made in improving the workplace culture here at Cheshire East Council. This work has been driven by both officers and members and we will continue to prioritise this. The peers also acknowledged the positive and inclusive approach taken by the joint administration.

"We also understand and recognise the financial challenge identified by the peers. We must work hard to ensure that we continue to have a sustainable budget with adequate financial reserves.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of local government but it is also bringing significant additional pressures and appropriate funding has never been more important."

Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of the council said: "We know that Cheshire East has an enviable economy, with enviable potential for further sustainable growth. The peers recognised the importance of the council's partnerships in delivering our ambitions for inclusive growth and have suggested that we can do even more to engage partners around our shared ambitions.

"They also made helpful observations and recommendations regarding the implementation of the committee system for Cheshire East Council. We can use these insights to help us to deliver a new inclusive model that will enable effective decision making."

Councillor Jill Rhodes, Cheshire East cabinet member for corporate services, said: "I am pleased that the peers recognised the improvements in workplace culture.

"Through the challenge session, the peers heard about the positive working relationships between councillors and officers across the organisation. We would not have seen these improvements without the committed efforts of councillors, managers and staff, working together."

The peer team met with councillors, managers, members of staff and the council's partners – a total of 180 people. They focussed on the following areas:

● How the council sets and delivers its priorities;

● The council's understanding of Cheshire East – its residents and communities and as a place;

● The council's leadership role;

● How the organisation is led and managed; and

● The council's management of finances and resources.

The team also looked at the council's organisational culture and plans for transformation.

The full report of the LGA's corporate peer challenge can be found on the council's website.

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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Nick Jones
Tuesday 9th June 2020 at 6:48 pm
Corefit, Co Socius , Lyme Green ,Suarez, Michael Jones, Police Investigations etc etc ... It might be history but the voting public did more to sort this out at the last election !
Peter Evans
Tuesday 9th June 2020 at 6:52 pm
A couple of points:,
1. While there is a lot of back slapping here, there is nothing to describe what the actual improvements are.
2. As a local council tax payer, I cannot say I can see or feel any result or benefit of these "outstanding improvements"
3. If 180 people were involved, even if not for very long each, the total resource hours involved and thus the costs of this exercise would seem to be significant.

So, I would really appreciate a breakdown of the value of this exercise to the people who fund CEC, i.e. the community. Otherwise, I will regard this as another CEC funded total vanity and self engrandisement project.
Pete Taylor
Tuesday 9th June 2020 at 11:26 pm
After several hundred years of local government controlled by land owners (rather than property owners) it will take some time to turn the ship around.

In the Digital Word everyone demands instant results; it’s not so simple, or so quick; as our “new” Councillors have found. Due process must be followed,... until due process can be amended.
We have all been stretched to the limits with the recent unprecedented situation (well, most of us- some of my near neighbours , unfortunately, seem to think they are exempt).
Hopefully the CEC Planning Department is now on a straight track (how is the Police investigation going)? No news for a while, in the public domain. We will keep asking.
The current exercise appears, on face value, to be something of a back-slapping gig.
The latest iteration of CEC was elected on a mandate of change; please make that change. Please make it clear.
Roger Bagguley
Wednesday 10th June 2020 at 6:11 am
Misconduct and a bullying culture. Be careful how you vote. This must never happen again.
Alan Brough
Wednesday 10th June 2020 at 7:53 am
As others have said; we need to know the outcomes of the many cases of wrong-doing and negligence that were investigated at CE.

It's OUR money that has been squandered, we have every right to know the detail, the extent and the cost.

This ridiculous "Council-Speak" propaganda statement is insulting in it's omission of detail.
Jon Williams
Wednesday 10th June 2020 at 11:03 am
I think they need to you the services of:
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
Pete Taylor
Wednesday 10th June 2020 at 11:51 am
Well said Alan Brough. Presumably all those involved in the Lyme Green fiasco have long gone from CEC, so may we now see the unredacted report which we paid for?
Mark Goldsmith
Wednesday 10th June 2020 at 1:20 pm
To answer some of the questions raised.

This process should have been undertaken years ago but the previous Conservative council
kept delaying it. We welcomed it though to see what improvements we had made and what else was left to do.

When we took over the council, we realised that it had been previously run by one or two senior councillors. They dominated the decisions and installed yes men (or women) around them, so they could run the council like their own personal empire. If any councillors disagreed with them, then they were out, so a culture of bullying and oppression developed.

This has now completely changed. All the current Portfolio Holders (the equivalent of government ministers) were appointed on their merits. This was based on their CV and not on any patronage. Therefore, we now have better people in the key roles. Also, as we have two political groups running the council, we have open discussions about issues, so individual party leaders can no longer dominate decision making. This progress will also continue when we move to a committee system next year.

As the report puts it "These improvements in culture have also supported the council to advance their internal assurance, with officers stating their comfort to ‘call out’ and ‘professionally challenge’ practice when appropriate. Alongside this cultural shift, the Team recognised the practical actions that have been taken, including improved management oversight and the development of supporting assurance frameworks and action plans."

So, how does this all benefit the public? In summary we now have better people talking openly to make better decisions that deliver better results. We are also no longer in Private Eye's Rotten Borough's section and the feedback from staff from this report was also extremely enlightening. Two of their anonymous comments that unfortunately didn't get into the final report were:

"I never used to tell people who I worked for because I was so embarrassed. However, I've started to tell people now".

"I know the council will still make mistakes but I also know they will now be far smaller and there will be far fewer of them".

Therefore, if nothing else, these improvements will stop the type of scandals that have beset Cheshire East for so long.

On these scandals, the police investigation has now closed and their files are with the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if individual councillors should stand trail for their actions. How and when they make this decision is totally beyond the councils control though.

All we can do now is ensure they never happen again.


Best regards

Mark Goldsmith
Residents of Wilmslow
Wilmslow West & Chorley

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